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Please tell me about your experience with tours.

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I am starting to plan my first trip to Italy with a girlfriend I have known for years. Looks like it will just be the 2 of us.

My friend wants to use a tour company because she thinks it will be easier to have them do the planning and arranging reservations.... We will be going to Venice, Florence and Rome (first trip for both of us). I do understand in many ways how it would be easier (especially since I do not speak Italian) and we will be on the move, will need tickets to certain things and want to see a lot of places. But a part of me feels like it will not be totally MY preference, and being a true fodorite and an admitted hotel snob - I like to plan things myself.

What are your experiences with this? Is it best for a first timer to use a tour company? Are their any that can get me tickets to the Vatican without having to wait in very long lines? What are good ones for hotel snobs like me? I am thinking less than 20 people. I don't want to spend thousands a night by any means, but I am thinking of a $8-10,000 budget for about 10 days, including air fare. I realize this is not a lot of time for 3 cities, but we are not retired yet. Thanks as always!


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